As a pair of reporters walked into his office Monday, Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, joked about the half-packed boxes and his impending departure from the legislature.
"This is what a has-been looks like," Starnes said with a laugh.
Starnes was to start his 11th term as a GOP lawmaker on Wednesday. Instead, he will resign from the General Assembly at noon Tuesday and start a new job Wednesday morning as State Treasurer Janet Cowell's legislative liaison and policy adviser. Cowell is a Democrat and a former state senator.
"I am her eyes and ears in the General Assembly," said Starnes, a former Republican majority leader who has been known as one of the more socially conservative members of the General Assembly.
Starnes is also a former Finance Committee chairman with a command of the issues the Treasurer's Office deals with. But how did he wind up working for a Democrat?
"That does seem like an odd fix," Starnes said. "But I look at it like this. The Treasurer's Office has the responsibility for managing the state retirement plan and the state health plan. These are not partisan issues, and it requires bipartisan cooperation. I think it's reasonable that Treasurer Cowell would reach out to a Republican while we have a Republican-controlled General Assembly."
Starnes will replace another former lawmaker, Rep. William McGee, a former Forsyth County Republican, who is stepping down as Cowell's legislative liaison.
The announcement came as a surprise to many of Starnes' colleagues, and he said he had not anticipated leaving the legislature when he filed to run for another term at the beginning of last year. While he has been talking to Cowell's office for a while, those talks became serious "after the election," he said.
"Had I know that this would happen, I would not have filed," he said.
Cowell said she was pleased to bring the former legislator on board.
"As a member of the State House who has served since 1997, Edgar Starnes brings a unique knowledge of the people of this state and the opportunities and challenges we face. I look forward to working with him," she said in a statement.